Posts tagged ‘Literature’

March 15, 2012

“Essays from the Edge” Meets “Big Sur” Without a Hangover

There’s a fine review by Patricia Hampl of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Essays from the Edge” in the American Scholar. While the excessive use of alcohol is often associated with an impulse to run away from feelings and, thus, an impulse towards cowardice, it is clear that it took great courage to expose his disease by writing these essays. While he did write fiction, it is clear from the writing that he had first-hand knowledge and that these are autobiographical events.

A generation later, Jack Kerouac came up with a novel called “Big Sur” which is a masterpiece of a chronicle of his own “crack up” with alcohol. I imagine he had read those essays of Fitzgerald’s. It’s amazing to me that great writing does not always require a sound mind. Perhaps writing is more than an intellectual exercise—ya think? The Crack-Up was published in 1945 and by then Fitzgerald was known as a great American writer. “Big Sur” was published in 1962 and by then Kerouac, too, was considered one.

Here’s a quote from Patricia Hampl’s piece:
“John Dos Passos was particularly exercised. “Christ, man,” he wrote to Fitzgerald in October 1936. “How do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to worry about all that stuff?” The “general conflagration,” presumably, was the Great Depression, but also National Socialism and fascism in Germany and Italy, and the Spanish Civil War, which had ignited in July. “We’re living in one of the damnedest tragic moments in history,” Dos Passos steams on. “If you want to go to pieces I think it’s absolutely OK but I think you ought to write a first-rate novel about it (and you probably will) instead of spilling it in little pieces for Arnold Gingrich,” the editor of Esquire, who had commissioned the essays.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Essays From the Edge:

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February 15, 2012

Notes on Being an Artist

How My Writing Frees Itself

A talented young writer recently asked me for some support and I dashed off a letter to her and I tried to explain, just how I, myself, managed to keep working day after day, and year after year. That inspired me to come up with a list of ways I support myself. This is my list:

• The more I become myself as an artist, the less I ask other people how or what I should write.
• What other people think about my writing is not important.
• What I think about my own writing, is not that important.
• Each day I sit down and tell my mind to shut up. I sit quietly for twenty minutes and then write what my inner self guides me to. It asks me to consider very difficult things in my own life, my thinking, and in my memories. That’s as it’s supposed to be.
• I hope my writing is a sharing from my most honest self. If I don’t have that in me, I’ll never share much value as an artist.
• I don’t think being an artist is easy: that I’ve had a difficult life so far, is to my advantage. It’s made me quite human, and that’s all there is to write about anyway.
• An artist’s sensitivity is all he or she is. In one sense a true artist is the bravest kind of person. No one wanted to hear Jesus say “love your enemy,” that was too brave. No one wanted to hear Buddha say: “Give up all your money, the only value is spiritual.” Neither one published anything, but we have to read their words all the time because they got the voice right. It’s an inside job, I’m afraid.
• I look in the mirror and I can tell myself one great fact: “I did not give up on myself—I love that about me.”
• I don’t listen to anyone who tells me what I should do with my art. I don’t even listen to myself, because many of those voices I hear in my head are only echoes of negativity that have been doing their push-ups for many years.
• Be unique, be yourself, be weird, be fabulous. I don’t have to try to do that, I just let myself go.

December 13, 2011

Read the pages that Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Galileo saw.

I found this Website from Octavo, rarebookroom.org, that brings us into all the best rare book rooms of the world. You can read the same type that our earliest writings, scholars, and musicians wrote and read. You can read Books of Hours, medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts; check out Galileo’s notebooks; and study charts of Copernicus about how he proved the truth about the solar system. Of course Octavo hopes you’ll buy some limited edition reprints of these, but if you can’t afford them, you certainly can’t afford not to check it out on your computer. The reality of these pages makes the type fonts on any computer screen look lame and pale by comparison, and something of the spirit of those times is transferred to the reader.

Octavo says, for instance: “Over the past several years in cooperation with the world’s greatest libraries, Octavo has digitally photographed most of the existing early quarto editions of William Shakespeare’s plays and poems, as well as the quarto editions of plays such as The Yorkshire Tragedy once considered part of the Shakespeare canon.”

You can explore the earliest texts here.

December 11, 2011

The Daily Beast has a list of 10 books you shouldn’t miss

They say these are: “10 Books That You Might Have Missed but Shouldn’t.” They are titles that might have flown under the radar for you.
There are capsule reviews of the books to help you decide which to read. Enjoy.

1. ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’
2. ‘Habibi’
3. ‘A Book of Secrets’
4. ‘Assassins of the Turquoise Palace’
5. ‘What It Is Like to Go to War’
6. ‘Hemingway’s Boat’
7. ‘Anatomy of a Disappearance’
8. ‘Into the Silence’
9. ‘Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness’
10. ‘Keynes Hayek’

November 3, 2011

Swimming to the Cambodia Inside his Readers

In “Swimming to Cambodia,” the monologue theater piece that became a popular movie, Spalding Gray plays Woody Allen’s oft-portrayed, anxiety-stifled character better than Allen ever could. The audience’s fascination may come from the conviction that Spalding Gray is not acting, but telling the truth, and he is. Although the genesis of his story may be seem spontaneous, the monologue is indeed as well-written as it is truthful.

The deeper fascination for the audience is the realization that we see through the character and the actor into the naked mind of the man called Gray with both dread and sympathy. Though we see that a person who is seriously neurotic or depressed is not us, the fascination grows because his character draws a picture so completely. In “Cambodia” Gray’s acting is equal to his writing ability.

Now, in ‘The Journals of Spalding Gray’ a review by Ron Rosenbaum of Gray’s previously unpublished personal story, we find the truth of it. Rosenbaum says: “It’s distressing to read the way happiness generates sadness and terror in Gray’s psyche, because his work could be the source of so much pleasure to his audiences.” Not that Bob Dylan ever accomplished any success as a poet, but he once said “A poet is a naked man.” I think that applies to Spalding Gray in his journals. See for yourself in this excerpt from the book which is now available for us to read: here.

October 24, 2011

New Directions for Writers and Publishers: a Debate

Thomas Glave (“Whose Song? and Other Stories,” “The Torturer’s Wife,” and “Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent” from City Lights Books) is optimistic about the changes in publishing and states that they are an opportunity for writers to grow, experiment, and take advantage of new ways of expression and working with others. He is, however, fearful that Amazon’s entry into publishing will not favor the art of writing and the collaboration of writers and editors, or even writers and other writers. Other publishing voices in the debate are: Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House; Michael Wolf, vice president of research, GigaOM: and Laurel Saville, author, “Unraveling Anne.”
Check out Thomas Glave and the others here:

October 13, 2011

Why “The Cats Table,” by Michael Ondaatje Is Not an Interesting Novel

When I read about this novel, I struck by some of its similarities to my own most recent works, Tardy Son and Tesora. I read an excerpt from his latest novel to find out. But I found that it’s all written from a remote adult’s POV with indulgent explanations about the boy with very little emotional or psychological understanding of him. That may have been all right with The English Patient, but not with this one. Instead of the writing being alive like a teenaged boy is, it’s petrified and dusty and conclusive. Life for a boy of that age might be dangerous in this situation, but it is not boring. He doesn’t seek out answers ontologically. A boy looks for gold and squished bugs and is obsessively optimistic.

It seems the closer a subject is to mine, the further the writing is apart from my style. Here’s a link to a NYTimes review of his new novel.

October 1, 2011

How do you mix comedy with tragedy?

How to create dark humor:
The main character in my novel has wartime trauma and is attempting a voyage in a rubber raft. He was once a bomber pilot, so he has a certain quality of leadership skills he can use on himself. On the other hand he is trying to escape from the evil in his own mind and cannot conceive of how to do that. Perhaps this gives me the opportunity to create some wild flights of imagination to play out in his mind. They contain scenes of an idyllic childhood juxtaposed with scenes from the darker scenes he remembers from literature. He is obviously attempting to avoid his own memories, but I would like to know if these flights need to be funny out loud, or does being merely ironic work for him?

July 3, 2011

Except from an Interview with William Giraldi

“It doesn’t bother me [that my students do most of their reading on screens] all that much, actually. Harold Bloom very sensibly talks about saving those students who are saveable, teaching to that minority who have the potential to be transformed by Whitman and Blake, who already suspect that betterment is to be found in books, not in electronic illumination. We writers and teachers don’t change lives, and we certainly don’t make lives. We nudge them. We nudge the nudgeable. Let’s not let anyone tell us that the Internet is going to murder the book, because the automobile has yet to murder the bicycle. The book, like the bicycle, is a perfect invention, and perfection dies hard. What object is more beautiful than a book?”
—Except from an Interview with William Giraldi, writer of the novel, Busy Monsters, by Steve Almond in “Poets and Writers,” July, 2011.

June 22, 2011

How much surprise do you like in a story?

How much surprise do you like in a story? I like a story to be unexpected at every turn. It doesn’t need to have multiple or parallel plots or one plot with many trailing sub-plots, but I find it’s the smaller surprises that help define a story and its characters. In my own life I find a competition of motives and possible actions which give spontaneity a chance to bloom. I expect any new detail to have its own story, so I pick and choose to create the characters and the themes. Among those things, I like to choose the one least probable.

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